Reaching The Online Generation

An Initiative of CityTeam Ministries

Avoiding the Old Guard Mentality

Posted on | November 24, 2008 |

As I talk to people about online church, I get different reactions.  The reaction that hits me the hardest is from people many consider to be church radicals.  I’m dismayed when these one-time radicals now condemn new approaches and ideas about the style or form of church. (Note that I didn’t say nature and function. Nature and function do not change. Style and form will, depending on context.)  They even use the same language to condemn new approaches that was once leveled at them and their ministries.  

Why?  Why do they do that?

I want to understand because I don’t ever want to be like that.  I don’t believe that internet church is IT.  Even as I try to figure this online thing out, I’m looking for the next tool God wants us to use to disciple people into a relationship with Him.  As I’ve said before, it’s about Jesus, not the tool.  It’s about reaching the lost, not twitter, facebook, ustream, bebo, myspace, etc.

I think this ‘old guard’ mentality is the result of finding identity in an idea, form, or style of church rather than in Jesus and Scripture (which points to Jesus).  Consequently, when a new thing comes along, it threatens that identity rather than becoming an opportunity to see how awesome Jesus is.  

I am the product of a very traditional and conservative denomination.  I love my heritage, but my heritage does not define me.  I let Jesus define me.

I hope that I never find my identity in anything other than Christ.

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3 Responses to “Avoiding the Old Guard Mentality”

  1. Frank Johnson
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 12:45 am

    Hi Paul. I found your blog a few days ago through a Twitter post by my friend Cynthia Ware.

    This is interesting post. I would probably be seen by many as fitting into your “old guard” description.

    I’m hesitant to embrace an expression of Christian community which only has an online component and no facet of physical community.

    I don’t think this is because of my tradition. In fact, I look at church very differently than most in my denomination. Most in my denomination would not see me as traditional!

    I’m hesitant to embrace a “church” which only has an online expression because I think physical, face-to-face community in a geographic location is part of God’s ideal design for the church.

    Is there always face-to-face community? No - especially in creative access nations. But I do think it is God’s ideal.

    My passion is to help local churches find ways to use the web and digital means to draw unbelievers into the believing community (in its physical expression in a geographic locale) which I believe is the best arena to facilitate conversion.

    I’m not certain, then, that everyone who resists the idea of online church does so because they find their identity in traditional expressions (although I don’t doubt that’s possible and perhaps even likely). There are some who are hesitant because of Scriptural convictions.

    My two cents.

  2. Paul
    December 3rd, 2008 @ 8:52 am

    Hey Frank,

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I wouldn’t describe you as having an old guard mentality, especially since your reservations about online community are found in Scripture. Old guard mentality type usually get to ‘just because it can’t be right’ pretty quickly without talking about Scripture at all.

    I would be really interested in the Scriptural convictions you talk about. I think it is important for any Christian to careful examine any Scripture that deals with the area to which they are called. I would appreciate any references that come to mind.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  3. Frank Johnson
    December 4th, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

    Hi Paul.

    My convictions on this issue start with John 17:21-23. In Jesus’ prayer, he says “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent me….I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and love them, even as You have loved Me.”

    Jesus is saying that if His disciples are one and perfected in unity, then two things will happen:

    1) the world will believe that the Father sent Jesus (and I think that includes an understanding of His mission to save mankind); and,

    2) the world will know that the Father loves them.

    I also believe that the converse is true - if Jesus’ disciples are not one and not perfected in unity, then the world will not believe that the Father sent Jesus (nor understand His mission), and the world will not know that the Father loves them.

    I sum it up this way - a demonstration of authentic Christian community is the foundation of all effective outreach.

    My conviction is that God’s ideal pattern for evangelism is to immerse unbelievers into Christian community where they will see the love of God lived out among Jesus’ followers and thus become convinced of the love the Father has for them.

    2 John 12 is interesting on this point because it suggests that face-to-face communication is better than remote communication.

    I also think that 1 John 4:12-14 is important to contemplate. John starts out by saying that no one has seen God at any time, but then goes on to talk about the effects of Christian community - God abides in us; God’s love is perfected in us; and then John finishes by saying that (although he has just said that no one has seen God at any time) because of the demonstration of authentic Christian community, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” It’s John’s explanation of the concepts Jesus expressed in his prayer in John 17.

    Other passages which I think are relevant:

    Luke 10:1-9 - Jesus sends out the disciples in small communities. He sent them in pairs and told them to find a house of peace - where a new community of believers would be formed as a witness to the surrounding city. The focus on eating and drinking in that passage speaks of community as well (in Middle Eastern thought, sharing a meal with someone is a declaration of intimacy).

    Acts 2:42-47 - verses 42-46 give us probably the best picture of Christian community in the New Testament. Verse 47 is the result of that community - “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” A demonstration of authentic Christian community was the foundation of their outreach.

    1 Thessalonians 1-2 - I love these chapters. I love chapter 1, verses 5 - “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” If we stopped there, I would be tempted to think, “Of course - there were lots of miracles and healings and that’s why the gospel didn’t come to the Thessalonians in word only.” But if we read on, we see that’s not what Paul had in mind - “just as you know what kind of men we proved to be _among you_ for your sake.” It was community and the apostles’ living their lives out in the midst of that community which gave the gospel its power.

    Before the unbeliever will be convinced of the love of God, they have to see that love lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers. There is no better arena for that demonstration than the physical, face-to-face community of believers in a geographic locale.

    I simply don’t believe that online interaction provides the same depth of community as physical proximity. Online interaction can be a valuable supplement to physical community, but it’s not the same thing.

    Much of internet evangelism today concerns me deeply because it does not take these principles seriously. Most evangelistic websites today are concerned with getting the reader to pray a prayer. But where is the foundation of authentic Christian community?

    I fear that the reports of mass conversions on the internet these days are actually masking a serious problem - all those who have “prayed the prayer” but not “continued in the faith” because they were never really saved to begin with - because they didn’t have the foundation of immersion into Christian community which is necessary for them to understand the mission of Jesus and the Father’s love for them (if they don’t understand these things, how can they be saved?). More on this here -

    That’s why I would love to see churches use their websites to draw unbelievers into relationships with believers around common life experiences and themes. The best way to do that, I think, is to let believers tell their stories online - through video, articles, etc. More on this idea here - And here -

    Well, this is turning into a novel, so I should probably stop here.

    I’d definitely be interested in hearing your reaction to what I’ve written. I can sense that you look to Scripture to define your strategy and that’s so important (but often missing, I think, in our approach to these issues).

    Thanks for the opportunity to share!


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